Europe Jan 23 - advice please.

Sbooker

Active member
Long story but we're going to France in January and I'm shouting a friend for each of the kids. Both of those kids haven't seen snow before. They'll obviously be in lessons for the first week so hopefully they're able to get around the hills for the remainder of the holiday. We've got the rest of that part of the holiday arranged to include an overnight trip by train to Lyon for the girls and perhaps a day off to visit Chambery too.

My wife will be returning to Australia with my son so he can get back to school and myself and the two girls will stay on for a couple of weeks as they won't start Uni until later in February. I'm concerned my daughter's friend won't love skiing as much as we do (she'll actually be snowboarding apparently). I want to have a week in two different areas toward the end of the holiday. (We will leave Europe as their school holidays start). I need those areas to be close to skiing but also accessible by public transport for the girls to have some days out to interesting towns and cities. I'm thinking Oulx for proximity to the Milky Way/Bardonecchia and also Turin by train and Briancon by bus. Also Innsbruck for easy access to the surrounding hills and access to the city itself but also a Salzburg by train and at a stretch Munich by train. I'm wondering if Chamonix would be suitable? I think there's a bus to Aosta and Geneva is also accessible by bus. Any other suggestions?
I'm tight with a dollar so Switzerland is probably not suitable. I'd like to be able to do some days with a guide so primarily piste focused areas like the Dolomites are probably not idea either.
Thanks in advance.
 
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Tony Crocker

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Aren't the girls college age with drivers' licenses? Perhaps you have reservations because Euro driving is "the other side of the road" for Aussies.

In 2013 Richard and I were in Andermatt with bad weather so he didn't ski at all and I skied only one day. Lucerne was about an hour north and Lake Como not much more than that south through the Gotthard tunnel. At any rate in the skier/non-skier scenario, it's easiest for the non-skiers to have the car.
I'm tight with a dollar so Switzerland is probably not suitable.
That was James' attitude when he started skiing the Alps and he seems not to feel that way now based upon his trips since 2018. I suspect his advice will be more useful than mine. I'd say you are quite generous letting each kid bring a friend from Australia to Europe for a month.

My observations about Swiss prices vs. the other alpine countries:
1) Lodging is similar. Price variation is more on reputation/profile/clientele.
2) Lift tickets are slightly more expensive, maybe $75 vs. $65 average. Not consequential IMHO.
3) Dining out is generally expensive in resort towns. Outside the resorts, it's less expensive in France and Italy than in Switzerland. I can't speak to Austria because I've been in half board hotels almost full time there.
4) Ski guides are much more expensive in Switzerland. The French guides in Val d'Isere were the bargain of a lifetime with the conditions we had there and we liked the ESF guides at Val Thorens too. Most of the time Swiss guides are only available as a private, while in France and Austria you can sign up with groups where they will sort by ability. Andermatt, Engelberg and Zermatt in Switzerland only offered group guiding selected days of the week, and the group price was based upon 4 people so you paid more if you had less than 4 people.

If you're not comfortable letting the girls have the car, keep in mind that Switzerland is the gold standard for train travel and likely the preferred country in that scenario.

If you stay in a city like Innsbruck, ski area commutes will generally be at least an hour each way. You can alternatively be in an main river valley somewhere like Landeck that puts you closer to the ski areas but farther from the big city. Sierre was like that on our recent trip.

Or you could go for a ski resort town that has a lot of other activities. That was our impression of St. Moritz. I suspect the Jungfrau region is very good, plus having relatively short train connections to several Swiss cities. I have not skied there, so I'll defer to James on this.

The Austrian resort ambience is probably desirable overall. I'd lean towards an Austrian resort in your situation if you're willing to let the girls have the car. St. Anton is sort of an obvious choice, particularly with its train station right in town and there are lots of off piste guide services there. The caveat is that it's not good for beginners at all and mediocre for low intermediates.

For the Arlberg James and I would both recommend the mid-January "Winter Sports Weeks" at the Sandhof in Lech. That area is much more intermediate friendly but still has the off piste/guiding options. The caveat is that Winter Sports Week is a dedicated ski package including lift tickets, and probably best to consider when your wife and son are still with you. I also can't find the Winter Sports Week on Sandhof's website today, so perhaps that is no longer offered.
 
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ChrisC

Well-known member
I would echo some of Tony's sentiments.

Jungfrau/Interlaken
That's a good base that almost every student passes through while visiting Europe (I did). Tons of things to do besides skiing. The skiing at Grindelwald/Wengen/Murren is mostly intermediate surrounded by incredible scenery. Can get to Zurich easily. Again, the most expensive thing about Switzerland is food. You are not really going to be eating out - besides maybe a pizza. The supermarkets are good.

Chamonix
That's a good option since it's almost a large town/small city with lots of apartments. Tons of activities. Train or bus service to Geneva. Skiing is a little strung out, but there are good intermediate runs at Le Balme, Les Houches and Brevent/Flegere.

St. Anton
I would steer away from this. The skiing for beginners is bad and challenging for intermediates. Perhaps more importantly, the Apres-Ski scene is completely out-of-control on the weekends. It's a non-stop party from 2pm to 2am....I have never seen anything like it. There are so many people wandering around drunk in their ski boots at midnight - who probably started drinking at 2pm at the Moosewirt/Krazy Kangaroo/etc....and never stopped. At Ischgl (another party place), there are signs in bars: No ski boots after 6pm! Otherwise, lots of apartments, great rail access, and tons of snow are all pluses...but I would not choose St Anton for 2 female university students. It's a lot of boys' trips and bachelor/stag parties plus 10 beers.

Innsbruck
This might be another good option. Huge university town! 100k students? Had a college friend do a semester there - they loved it. Nordkette ski mountain is accessible from the city center. Longer bus rides to the different mountains. Only visited in summer.
 

Tony Crocker

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Innsbruck
..... Huge university town! 100k students?
Jim Steenburgh of University of Utah spent the winter/spring as a visiting professor in Innsbruck. I was a bit disappointed that he did not get to many Austrian ski resorts. He's more of a backcountry than resort skier and almost never had a car while he was there. I'm really surprised he never made it to the Sonnblick Observatory with its insane snowfall/snowpack data. Sonnblick is in the news today, and not in a positive way.

ChrisC confirms my educated guess that Jungfrau/Interlaken would be an excellent choice. I think sbooker should wait until the Grands-Montets tram is rebuilt for Chamonix though.
 
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Sbooker

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Thanks for the replies. I appreciate them.
Aren't the girls college age with drivers' licenses? Perhaps you have reservations because Euro driving is "the other side of the road" for Aussies.
Emily is only 17 and while her friend Lilly is 18 she is still on a 'provisional' licence - something Aussies have to have for 3 years after getting their driver's licence. Regardless a lot of car hire companies don't rent to drivers under 25. If they do the rates are exorbitant.
That was James' attitude when he started skiing the Alps and he seems not to feel that way now based upon his trips since 2018. I suspect his advice will be more useful than mine. I'd say you are quite generous letting each kid bring a friend from Australia to Europe for a month.
I guess I'm selectively tight. I can't stand that feeling of being fleeced. We had dinner out in Geneva in March and the bottle of water for 10 Francs pushed me over the edge. I'll get thousands of dollars worth of joy seeing the look on the face of the kids when they first experience that magical moment of getting snowed on.
If you stay in a city like Innsbruck, ski area commutes will generally be at least an hour each way. You can alternatively be in an main river valley somewhere like Landeck that puts you closer to the ski areas but farther from the big city. Sierre was like that on our recent trip.
Landeck is a good idea and one that I've researched in the past. We could get the bus around the corner to Serfaus or Ischgl. I think those areas will be ok for a beginner like Lilly. She's a pretty sporty kid so I'm picking she'll pick up snowboarding well. I'm still working on getting them to start with skiing. I expect Emily will quickly find herself back at the adventurous intermediate level.
Jungfrau/Interlaken
That's a good base that almost every student passes through while visiting Europe (I did). Tons of things to do besides skiing. The skiing at Grindelwald/Wengen/Murren is mostly intermediate surrounded by incredible scenery. Can get to Zurich easily. Again, the most expensive thing about Switzerland is food. You are not really going to be eating out - besides maybe a pizza. The supermarkets are good.
I'll check this out. I'm aware of the area in general. Thanks.
Chamonix
That's a good option since it's almost a large town/small city with lots of apartments. Tons of activities. Train or bus service to Geneva. Skiing is a little strung out, but there are good intermediate runs at Le Balme, Les Houches and Brevent/Flegere.
I'm leaning heavily toward this one of the legs. There's also a bus to Aosta.
St. Anton
I would steer away from this. The skiing for beginners is bad and challenging for intermediates. Perhaps more importantly, the Apres-Ski scene is completely out-of-control on the weekends. It's a non-stop party from 2pm to 2am....I have never seen anything like it. There are so many people wandering around drunk in their ski boots at midnight - who probably started drinking at 2pm at the Moosewirt/Krazy Kangaroo/etc....and never stopped. At Ischgl (another party place), there are signs in bars: No ski boots after 6pm! Otherwise, lots of apartments, great rail access, and tons of snow are all pluses...but I would not choose St Anton for 2 female university students. It's a lot of boys' trips and bachelor/stag parties plus 10 beers.
We have no interest in crazy apres parties. The girls are not drinkers - something I hope they stick with. I myself like to go out for a couple of quiet brews at a locals bar before dinner. I find I often get to talking to some people. It's one of the pleasures of traveling.
Innsbruck
This might be another good option. Huge university town! 100k students? Had a college friend do a semester there - they loved it. Nordkette ski mountain is accessible from the city center. Longer bus rides to the different mountains. Only visited in summer.
This is a great option. We visited Innsbruck for a 'city day' a few years ago. It would be a good place to stay. A bus ride for an hour wouldn't concern me at all.
For the Arlberg James and I would both recommend the mid-January "Winter Sports Weeks" at the Sandhof in Lech. That area is much more intermediate friendly but still has the off piste/guiding options. The caveat is that Winter Sports Week is a dedicated ski package including lift tickets, and probably best to consider when your wife and son are still with you. I also can't find the Winter Sports Week on Sandhof's website today, so perhaps that is no longer offered.
This sounds really great but the first part of our trip is locked in. The two girls have immensely enjoyed their French studies for the last 6 years. My wife has also embraced French. They often speak broken French at home at random times. The three females can't wait to use their landuage skills on the locals.
I will be doing a 'off piste ski improvement' week while the kids are in lessons the first week on snow. I'll also try to join guided groups on days that we're not traveling to nearby resorts from our base in Les Arcs.
 

Sbooker

Active member
I think sbooker should wait until the Grands-Montets tram is rebuilt for Chamonix though.
There'll be enough in Chamonix to amuse me without the tram I reckon. I'll use the guiding group daily. And the Vallee Blanche is a bucket list thing that I'd like to do sooner rather than later.
As I'm in Oz a trip back to Europe is a big deal so I don't know how many I have left given I want to get back to Canada a few times at least and given the logical northern hemisphere trip for me is Japan.*
*Japan works well from a logistics and cost perspective but my travel partner, ski buddy and wife has a preference for the groomer focused large hills of Europe and North America so I'll have to work on getting her more comfortable with skiing off the trails.
 
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Tony Crocker

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I was going to mention Morzine/Portes du Soleil and when I mentioned this thread to Liz that was her first suggestion. More French practice for your group too!

My advice stands on Chamonix. From a skiing standpoint Grands Montets is the main attraction. You might want to drop by for a couple of days like Liz and I did in 2019 as a flexible call when you have a clear weather forecast for Vallee Blanche. And the views from Brevent-Flegere are mind blowing.

The guided skiing in Chamonix is quite technical from what I read. I think you'll get plenty of off piste in your comfort zone in Les Arcs and the other Tarantaise areas.
 

Sbooker

Active member
I was going to mention Morzine/Portes du Soleil and when I mentioned this thread to Liz that was her first suggestion. More French practice for your group too!
Thanks. I'll check that out. I assume the 'day off' activity there would be a trip to Geneva?
The guided skiing in Chamonix is quite technical from what I read. I think you'll get plenty of off piste in your comfort zone in Les Arcs and the other Tarantaise areas.
I'm sure they'll cater to wanna be skiers like me in Chamonix. I reckon the place would attract intermediate skiers who think they are more skilled than they are.
Chamonix is attractive from the perspective that it has lots to do for Lilly should she not be excited by sliding on snow.

Has anyone skied the Via Lattea area? The idea Italian lunches while on snow is appealing. The town of Oulx has great connections to Turin and Briancon.
 

Tony Crocker

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Has anyone skied the Via Lattea area? The idea Italian lunches while on snow is appealing. The town of Oulx has great connections to Turin and Briancon.
We drove past those areas in Italy on the recent trip but never considered stopping as like the rest of Italy they had a horrible season in 2022. Liz would probably consider it derelict if I didn't mention Cervinia, where we had lots of powder on mostly intermediate terrain in both 2014 and 2019, not to mention the renowned Chalet Etoile for lunch.

If you and the girls have tolerance for frequent relocations, 2-3 days each in Chamonix and Cervinia like we did in 2018 might work. You also have La Thuile and Courmayeur right in between them.


I'm sure they'll cater to wanna be skiers like me in Chamonix. I reckon the place would attract intermediate skiers who think they are more skilled than they are.
I'm sure they will try but the topography is much better for you in many other places. Also with that tram down in Grands Montets I suspect there's a significant uphill touring component to much of Chamonix guided skiing these days.
 
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Sbooker

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We drove past those areas in Italy on the recent trip but never considered stopping as like the rest of Italy they had a horrible season in 2022. Liz would probably consider it derelict if I didn't mention Cervinia, where we had lots of powder on mostly intermediate terrain in both 2014 and 2019, not to mention the renowned Chalet Etoile for lunch.

If you and the girls have tolerance for frequent relocations, 2-3 days each in Chamonix and Cervinia like we did in 2018 might work. You also have La Thuile and Courmayeur right in between them.
We skied in Cervinia a few years ago and we also skied La thuile/La Rosiere. I intend to do a day to the latter when we are based in Les Arcs. Courmayeur is a good shout. That could be done from Chamonix if we go there.
Relocations don't concern me greatly as I love a train ride. It's a chance for legs to rest while taking in the scenery.
 

jimk

Active member
FYI, here is an old two-part article on a 2003 trip I made for a ski week based in Salzburg:

Probably a fair amount of that report is now out of date including that the city doesn't sponsor a dedicated Snow Shuttle anymore. You just have to pick the appropriate regularly scheduled bus route to your ski destination of choice. The point though is that Salzburg is pretty affordable and a very interesting city for non-skiers or skiers taking a day off. I talk about some of that (music, dining, castles) in the article. Also, the skiing is very nice with a good variety of sizeable ski areas within 60-80 minutes of the city.
 

Tony Crocker

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My family was in Salzburg 2 days in summer 1999 and there is definitely much to see there.

As a SoCal native I'm inherently suspicious of bus transportation and nearly always inclined to go for the rental car if gong to more than one resort and/or if the schedule in flexible. Both of those criteria have applied to 6 of my 9 Euro ski trips. Sbooker is looking at over a month with up to 6 people but I get the impression he's trying to do all of this by train and bus. Large number of people is another factor improving the economics of car rental vs. public transportation,

Reading jimk's reports, it's sounds like that dedicated Snow Shuttle was well designed with many options. Were the guides part of that or independently hired? However I note one day when they had to turn around in order to catch the bus departure at 4PM. That would cramp my style based upon our recent trip. We weren't done skiing until nearly 5PM at Sölden, Nendaz and Les Arcs, and most ski days lasted somewhat past 4PM. Intra-resort buses run very frequently but I suspect the long distance ones from cities much less so.

Jimk's itinerary overlapped our second week in January 2017. Conditions sounded identical: sunny, packed powder with a temperature inversion keeping the low altitude snow good. However the following week it rained to 2,000 meters, meaning the top of nearly all of those areas.

I would never book ski areas that low much in advance. But one reason to go for the January/early February timeframe is that's when the lower places can be favorable so it expands your options compared to March/April. We will be returning to the late January/early February timeframe for our Alps trip next season.
 
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Sbooker

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Sbooker is looking at over a month with up to 6 people but I get the impression he's trying to do all of this by train and bus. Large number of people is another factor improving the economics of car rental vs. public transportation,
You are correct. We have previously rented cars many many times. In my view USA and Canada and even Hokkaido is not doable without a car.
We went to France in March just gone and didn't use a car. It was a pleasure.
For this trip we will fly into Paris for a day or two and then take the train to Les Arcs where we will be based until my wife and son go back. Bourg Saint Maurice train and bus station is extremely accessible via the 7 minute funicular ride. My wife and the girls will do an overnight diversion to Lyon in the middle of our stay. We will do a few day trips by bus to Tignes/La Rosiere/perhaps St Foy. They are an hour long at most with La Rosiere being only 15 minutes. With a 15 year old lad that loves to sleep in a bit later now it will be better to be based in a big resort and have the advantage of being able to go back to lodging throughout the day if someone needs or wants to.

Once Kylie and the lads go home I'll use the train to get around. My daughter is very easy going and early starts are no concern to her.

We weren't done skiing until nearly 5PM at Sölden, Nendaz and Les Arcs, and most ski days lasted somewhat past 4PM. Intra-resort buses run very frequently but I suspect the long distance ones from cities much less so.
With the short January days we'll likely be done by 4 or 4.30pm even though the lift still run to 5pm at that time of year. On days that I am skiing alone (or with a guide) and the girls are doing a day out to a nearby city or town they will sort out the transport. I have looked at some and it appears there are buses/trains at the end of the day for them to return to our base.

I'm not closed to the car option if I need one but at this point I'm not seeing a need.
 

Tony Crocker

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We used that funicular at Les Arcs and had to wait awhile for the 5PM download. You have to get from where you are staying, Arc 1800 I think, to the funicular, then catch a bus at the bottom up to another resort? The roads up those valleys (we have driven up Val d'Isere, La Plagne and Val Thorens) are slow winding roads in a car and will take even longer in a bus. That's a very long day in both directions to anywhere but La Rosiere.

As huge as Paradiski is, I can see staying there for a week or two without the car, but when your wife and son go home and it's 3 people with last minute decisions where you are going and possibly multiple places, that's when I think you need a car for sure. Going resort to resort can be fairly direct with a car, but with public transit you are most likely going down to some hub city from resort A, changing train/bus with possible downtime, then up to resort B.

You'll need to research specifics, as the setup jimk certainly had its merits. But if flexibility calls for you to change plans, that's always easier with the car. Note that our recent trip was a mix of ski and non-ski attractions (which you think might happen with the girls) and it was the most drive intensive of our Euro trips.
 
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Sbooker

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We used that funicular at Les Arcs and had to wait awhile for the 5PM download. You have to get from where you are staying, Arc 1800 I think, to the funicular, then catch a bus at the bottom up to another resort? The roads up those valleys (we have driven up Val d'Isere, La Plagne and Val Thorens) are slow winding roads in a car and will take even longer in a bus. That's a very long day in both directions to anywhere but La Rosiere.
We used that method a few times and found it fine. The bus to the funicular is 9 minutes. The run up to Val D'Isere is 45 minutes. The time to Saint Foy from Bourg is 20 minutes. I can handle that. Particularly the trip home at about 4pm.
We took the Vanoise Express to La Plagne last time. It's one lift out of 1800 to the Vanoise.
I do agree a day trip to the Three Valleys is a bridge too far.
It's worth remembering a car that accommodates 6 people is a bit harder to get in Europe.

You've got me thinking about a car for the time after Kylie goes home.....
 

Tony Crocker

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Yes, 6 people probably means two cars in Europe, especially with any ski gear. I agree the case for the car is most compelling with 3 people and possible multiple destinations for the second part of the trip.

With two changes in the public transit route, your commute to Val d'Isere from Arc 1800 is minimum two hours each way, more than I'd want lugging ski gear, especially since over two weeks I'd be doing it more than once (personal bias for Espace Killy being the better ski complex for both snow and terrain quality). If the first part is two full weeks, I'd split that between Les Arcs and Val d'Isere. The La Daille apartment towers in Val D'Isere are a great location, though I have no idea what they cost. I'd still split those two weeks even if you need to stay in Tignes or Val Claret for a better apartment price.
 
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Sbooker

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I’m hearing you with the Tignes/Val D suggestion and I agree that it is the better hill in a lot of ways. We did a week in both Paradiski and Tignes/Val in March.

I chose Les Arcs for the entire duration for a few reasons. Firstly packing up for 6 people is a hassle. Secondly the access to train for days out to Chambery (and an overnight stay in Lyon) for those that don’t want to ski every day is much much easier from Les Arcs. But the biggest reason is I personally want to ski as much as possible and snow/low visibility days (likely to have a few in January) would be much harder for a gaper like me to contend with at Tignes as there is virtually no tree lined runs or tree skiing. We’ll pick bright sunshine days to go to Val D’Isere. I’ve discovered a 9 seater taxi is only 55 Euro from Bourg train station to Val D’Isere. A relative bargain if you ask me.

Once again I appreciate your thoughts and assistance with my ski travel. I’ve been using your input for about 8 years now I think. Not always do I take your specific advice but often I do and rarely has it been bum steer. (Aside from the time you suggested Jackson Hole for our late March trip a few years ago).
 

ChrisC

Well-known member
I was going to mention Morzine/Portes du Soleil and when I mentioned this thread to Liz that was her first suggestion. More French practice for your group too!

My advice stands on Chamonix. From a skiing standpoint Grands Montets is the main attraction. You might want to drop by for a couple of days like Liz and I did in 2019 as a flexible call when you have a clear weather forecast for Vallee Blanche. And the views from Brevent-Flegere are mind blowing.

The guided skiing in Chamonix is quite technical from what I read. I think you'll get plenty of off piste in your comfort zone in Les Arcs and the other Tarantaise areas.

I don't think the lack of the Grands Montets summit tram is the worse thing for new visitors. But I agree, I will not return until it's back, and hopefully with a new lower-capacity S3 type lift.

My first ski day there in 2004 was powder in late December and I really enjoyed just the Herse and Bochard Gondolas. I think the best terrain is Combe de Pendant, followed by Glacier de Rognons / Point de Vue.

If you are there for 2 weeks, I would do the following given Sbooker's parameters:

1. Chamonix.
  • Mt. Blanc tram / Aguille du Midi. You do not even have to ski the Vallee Blanche, tons of things to do at the top.
  • So many areas are served by a free bus system: Brevent, Flegere, Le Balme/Le Tour, Grands Montets, Les Houches
  • Italy close by: Courmayeur, etc
  • Satellite areas: Les Contamines, Megeve
  • The town. Museums, history, lots of cafes, shopping
  • Lots of apartments
  • Public transportation
2. Interlaken / Jungfrau Region.
  • Not too far away from Chamonix
  • Another must-see place in Europe scenery-wise equivalent to Chamonix, Zermatt, Dolomites, etc. Rick Steves (a famous American European travel writer) cannot stop talking about this region.
  • Great public transportation. Trains, likely buses to all the resorts/skiing.
  • Nice beginner / intermediate cruising - especially at the Grindelwald/Wengen complex.
  • Murren is very special. Smaller area, but James Bond, tram-only accessibility, etc.
  • Lots of Non-ski: Hiking, sledging, snow-shoeing, taking lifts into the alpine, etc.

I'm sure you could swap Morzine/Avoriaz in for Interlaken, but I have not been to the Portes du Soliel area.

I also do not know gateway city....guess Paris?. If so, Austria would be a one-day haul in each direction - limiting its desirability.


Even I could be a big dork and delay skiing to have touristy fun at the top of the Aguille du Midi. My brother is too-cool-for-school and looked on -- horrified. The guide said in the summer there are lines 1hr+ to get this photo.

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IMG_2140.JPG


IMG_2119 (1).jpg
 

ChrisC

Well-known member
If the first part is two full weeks, I'd split that between Les Arcs and Val d'Isere. The La Daille apartment towers in Val D'Isere are a great location, though I have no idea what they cost. I'd still split those two weeks even if you need to stay in Tignes or Val Claret for a better apartment price.

If you could find a place in the La Daille area, it would be optimal. The buses between base areas in Val d'Isere run very frequently (5-10 minutes). Sometimes it is more optimal to use the bus to position yourself versus skiing. Also, there are some trees on the lower Val d'Isere slopes possibly allowing for skiing on storm days.

I get bored after more than one week in any place. So I would move around on a weekly basis.

However, I like to establish a base and take day trips versus packing up stuff every 2 days.
 

jamesdeluxe

Administrator
Not always do I take your specific advice but often I do and rarely has it been bum steer. (Aside from the time you suggested Jackson Hole for our late March trip a few years ago).
Please link back to the thread where (according to you) Tony went against his own impassioned advice never to consider Jackson Hole after mid-February.
:rotfl:
 
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